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Gove ‘exercises Christian forgiveness’ over Tory donor’s alleged remarks about Abbott

Michael Gove says he is inclined to “exercise Christian forgiveness” when it comes to alleged remarks a Tory donor made about former Labour MP Diane Abbott.

Earlier this week, the Guardian reported that businessman Frank Hester told his staff Ms Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and “should be shot”.

The comments about the UK’s first black woman to become an MP have been deemed “racist and wrong” by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as well as opposition politicians.

But while the businessman said he was “deeply sorry” for the words, he insisted they were “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

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Speaking to Sky News’ Wilfred Frost, Mr Gove, the communities secretary, said Mr Hester had made “a genuine apology”, and he believed he had “shown real contrition” over the alleged remarks.

“It’s important to recognise… the government that we have is the most diverse in the Western world, and Mr Hester was giving money in order to support a British Asian prime minister, so I think it is important to put that in context,” he said.

“But again, it’s right that Mr Hester should be called out for his words and it is also right that he should apologise. I understand that he has and shown full contrition.”

Pushed by Wilfred Frost on whether the apology could be genuine if the Tory donor did not accept the alleged comments were racist and misogynistic, Mr Gove said: “I think that when someone says they are sorry – and I understand he’s deeply sorry for these remarks – then my natural inclination is to exercise Christian forgiveness.”

Ms Abbott has called the alleged comments “frightening” and “alarming”, especially in light of the murders of two MPs – Labour’s Jo Cox and Conservative Sir David Amess – in recent years.

But despite the shared outrage over the words, and increasing pressure from all sides of the House, Mr Sunak appeared to rule out returning donations from Mr Hester and his company, The Phoenix Partnership – which between them have given the Conservatives £10m since the 2019 election.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Sunak instead said he was “pleased” the businessman was supporting “one of the most diverse governments in this country’s history”.

Both Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the SNP’s Stephen Flynn attacked the position, with the latter accusing the prime minister of “putting money before morals”.

However, despite being in the chamber for the entire session – and standing up over 40 times to try and secure a question – Ms Abbott was never called to speak about her own experience.

Writing in The Independent, the former Labour MP – who had the whip removed last year after suggesting Jewish people do not face racism – attacked both parties over their responses to Mr Hester’s remarks.

“The Tory reluctance to call our racism and sexism is shocking, but hardly surprising,” she said. “But the position of the current leadership of the Labour Party is disappointing – it seemed equally reluctant at the outset to call out either racism or sexism. In fact, a number of Labour statements were issued, and interviews given where neither word was mentioned.

“Instead, the entire focus was on the demand that the Tories give Hester back his money, which is surely not the primary point in this case.”

Speaking to Sky News, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Darren Jones, said he didn’t want the “sensitive and difficult issue” for Ms Abbott to “become a kind of internal party argument”.

But he claimed that under the leadership of Sir Keir, racism and misogyny is “not tolerated” and is “dealt with very, very quickly”.

Sky News Source